The NHS is unable to keep up with the demands of modern Britain

Steven Young

September 13, 2021

It is now over seventeen months since the first lockdown began to “protect the NHS”. In the meantime, millions of people have been vaccinated, yet an unacceptable number of people are still unable to see a doctor face to face.

Every day we hear stories of people being misdiagnosed, being diagnosed too late with cancer, and even people dying unable to see a doctor. It is becoming increasingly clear that slowing the spread of Covid-19, if indeed that is what the restrictions have done, has come at the expense of lives being ruined by other ailments that could have been treated by a GP. 

The closing of doctors’ surgeries made some sense initially. Everyone was to stay home, so the only time people should need medical care was in an emergency, for which they would attend a hospital and not a GP. Therefore, hospitals were dealing with Covid and other serious health issues while GP’s surgeries remained closed. Doctors’ surgeries have now reopened, but many of them see fewer than half of their patients face-to-face, with consultations often happening over Zoom or the phone. 

Zoom and phone consultations are better than nothing, but things can easily be missed without in-person appointments. Having someone examine themselves over the phone and relay their findings back to their doctor is, in many cases, not as effective as the trained doctor conducting the examination themselves. GPs have been vaccinated, as have most of their patients, so it is unlikely that a full re-opening would greatly add to the pressure on hospitals from Covid. If anything, it would relieve the pressure as patients with problems that a GP can treat would not have to go to resort to visiting a hospital. Lockdowns have exacerbated other health problems, so GPs have to treat these issues to stop A&E departments from being overwhelmed. 

There are two possible reasons for this situation, which are not mutually exclusive. The first possible reason is that some GPs might well be enjoying the break from noisy waiting rooms full of sick patients and prefer to minimise their contact with the general public. The second possible reason is that GPs are stretched too thin. The number of fully qualified GPs fell by 4.5 per cent between September 2015 and March 2021. The UK is struggling for GPs, and patients are suffering as a result. GPs’ surgeries are under-staffed and under-funded, so they have no choice but to prioritise emergency patients because there is nobody there to see the people with less immediately serious problems. 

It is easy to blame supposedly lazy doctors for this problem, but that is not necessarily fair, and misses the bigger culprit – the NHS. The state-run healthcare system that we gave up our freedoms to protect is inefficient and unable to keep up with the demands of modern Britain.

Years of complaints by elements of the left that the Tory government has under-funded the NHS have been shown to be untrue. As Kristian Niemietz points out in his research, UK healthcare spending in 2019 was 10.3 per cent of GDP, while Australia spent 9.3 per cent and achieved better healthcare outcomes in most areas. It is even harder to argue that the NHS is underfunded when it is hiring Heads of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at between £60,000 and £70,000 a year, to write blogs telling white people to ‘be uncomfortable’ and read Critical Race Theory.

The biggest problem with the NHS has been highlighted in the aftermath of Covid-19: it cannot cope with too many people using it. Even before Covid, the NHS put out images that discouraged people from using emergency services when not necessary. One of the places they recommend people go to instead is their GP. If their GP is not available, and they are not supposed to use A&E, where are people meant to go? This is easy for those who can afford private healthcare, but not so much for the people who depend on the NHS because they cannot afford anything else. 

We need our GPs to be fully operational again, despite what happens with Covid. Those of us who believe that the NHS is an antiquated and inefficient system in need of total reform know that we will be met with scaremongering about an American style healthcare system and will be shut down. But something has to happen, because we cannot continue with people dying from cancers that a GP could have spotted or lying at home wondering what that chest pain is. Examining our whiteness is a problem for another time (or never) – seeing a doctor is a more pressing concern. 

Author

Written by Steven Young

Steven Young is Policy Researcher at the British Conservation Alliance

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